Human trafficking, though widespread, is largely unknown and misunderstood.

Modern day slavery that involves the use of force, coercion or fraud to obtain some type of labor or commercial sex act,  every year, thousands of people, mostly women and young girls are deceived, threatened or simply forced into commercial sexual exploitation. This isn't a crime confined to far-off locales, but also playing out in our neighborhoods, foster homes and the internet.

Human trafficking exploits the most vulnerable and is the fastest growing criminal enterprise in the world, the second-largest behind drug trafficking. Today, an estimated $150 billion industry, victims are mostly children and account for as much as half of those sold for sex. With around three-quarters of victims coming from foster care or some other type of guardianship, poverty, domestic abuse, prostitution, gang activity and pornography are all intricately entwined in the illegal scourge.

The International Labor Office Estimates show that currently there are 20.9 million slaves. Victims are bought and sold, changing hands multiple times. Most victims get to live an average of a mere seven years from the time they are initiated into their first commercial sex act. Homicide, suicide, abuse and sexual diseases take their toll.

Efforts to eradicate human trafficking include strict legislation to stiffen penalties for buyers. States like Florida and Missouri are enacting new regulations that plan to utilize even consumer protection laws to target traffickers. But such efforts are rare, time-intensive and costly. In the law enforcement, many local officials and prosecutors simply do not possess the resources, training or manpower to effectively handle criminal cases involving trafficking. More effective would be creating awareness of the problem.

Not surprisingly, as much as 88 percent of the victims have contact with health care providers. So it's very important that healthcare professionals be made aware of the signs of someone being sold for sex. This also holds true for the hospitality industry as traffickers frequently use hotels to ply their trade and in moving their victims from one place to another.

The need of the hour requires the work of many and an appraisal of the social attitudes and habits that make trafficking profitable. Join us in the fight to end sex trafficking globally. Together, we can build awareness of this horrendous practice and motivate people to take steps to prevent its spread.